Monday, July 18, 2011

Goodbye, Harry Potter...

The long awaited final chapter of the Harry Potter saga debuted at midnight this past Friday. Harry Potter lovers lined up dressed as their favorite characters to see the boy who lived in his final battle with he who must not be named. Harry Potter first appeared on June 30, 1997 (one month after I graduated from college) in London and made his American debut a little over a year later in 1998. I remember vaguely hearing about the novel, but paying very little attention to the hoopla that surrounded it, mostly because I was a new teacher, and I wasn't 12.

When the first movie premiered in 2001, I once again made a mental note of Harry Potter, but I still wasn't interested. I was more interested in another novel coming to the big screen, you remember a little movie called Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I don't know if I've mentioned it or not, but LOTR is one of my favorite movies. Besides, I had just started a new job in August of 2001. I was still learning the ropes at my new school, and I was taking grad school classes. I hardly had time to breathe much less read the book or watch a movie. Once again, I wasn't 12.

The novels and movies kept coming, and basically, I kept ignoring them. There were other things that interested me more-the conclusion of LOTR movies, proms, ring days, and graduations. In the fall of 2005, however, I began teaching the class of 2006. They were quite the boisterous bunch and quite opinionated. Each year my senior classes have to chose a work of literary significance to read and analyze for their senior term paper. As I passed out the list of the grand literary canon they were to choose from, one of the more impish members of the class raised his hand and asked, "Can we do Harry Potter?" Apparently, I have a habit of looking over my glasses and scoffing whenever the students say something that only I find terribly amusing. (This was the group who pointed this out by the way. I didn't realize that I did this.)

My response, "Are you serious?" He said, "Yes." I then climbed upon my literary high horse and pulled out that line that students hate to hear about works they love, "No, because the novel has no literary significance, and it's a young adult novel, which you are not allowed to use for this paper." He responded, "You're kidding, right." I responded, "No." To which he responded, "How do you know it has no literary significance? Have you read them?" Okay, he got me. I hadn't read a single one. So, I sheepishly responded, "No." Then, came the argument from the rest,"How can I judge a book I have never read?"

As a teacher, I told them that there were certain criteria which a work had to fulfill to make the list of works that they would choose from. There is a list of novels, plays, and epics they have to chose from, I'm not making that part up. I also require they use novels, plays, and epics that I myself have read. Finally, they have to be able to find significant amounts of literary criticisms. The more contemporary the novel, the fewer expert opinions for them to use in their research. So, I begrudgingly went to our school library that day and checked out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I fell in love with Harry Potter. I polished off all 6 of the novels in a three week period, and I was a little upset that I would have to wait until 2007 to read the last part.

The class that introduced me to Harry Potter had had him in their lives since they were about 10 years old. They were about the same age as Harry and had grown up with him. The novel was a significant part of their lives, which is why they were so defensive of it. I will always appreciate that they "made" me read Harry Potter. I imagine some day that they will introduce Harry, Hermione and Ron to little boys and girls not yet conceived. While I'm not a fan of the movies, I haven't seen the Deathly Hallows-Part One or The Half-Blood Prince, I did like the actors they cast in the roles. Daniel Radcliffe has been a perfect Harry Potter, Emma Watson was exactly how I pictured Hermione Granger to be, and Rupert Grint was a great Ron Weasley. The movies brought all of the magical characters to life. It has been delightful watching them grow on the screen as the characters grew in the novels.

Even though I'm not a big fan of the movies, it is not because of the actors, but because of the scripts. I understand that they have to leave things out, but some of the things they chose to leave out bothered me-mostly characters that were significant in the books. Even so, actors like the late Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman (who is wonderful as Snape), Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonaham Carter (perfection as Bellatrix Lestrange), Ralph Fiennes, and Brendan Gleeson-a whos-who among British thespians-made the movies better than they probably should have been.

That said, I still enjoy the movies because they remind me of why I love the novels so much. I've read all 7 twice now. I plan on reading all 7 again later this year. That's the thing about good literature and good movies. You want to go back. The great stories...and Harry Potter is a great story, a well-told tale. It was a tale that showed a generation of students the wonder of literature. It showed them that they still had and could use their imagination. J. K. Rowling, who herself is a remarkable story, created a world fraught with danger, mythical creatures, and magic. At the root of the story, however, are sorrow, rejection, sacrifice, good vs. evil, friendship, and first love, all set during the most tumultuous years in a person's life-the teen years. This is why children love the books. Rowling understood her audience. She didn't condescend to them as youths, and her technique changed as they grew allowing the books to grow with them. Harry Potter isn't ending. Yes, the movies will be no more movies or novels about Harry. It doesn't matter. Just pick up The Sorcerer's Stone, and the journey begins anew. So, I will not say goodbye to Harry, just see you around...

Until next time, "The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home."~J.K. Rowling

1 comment:

  1. Wow. This is pretty interesting. I think it's great that you took the time to actually read all of them. Now, reading them two and three times seems like overkill to me, but hey, whatever floats your boat. LOL! Seriously, I'm not a fan of HP and I've only seen one LOTR movie. I love sci-fi, but can't seem to get with movies with sequels any more. I think "Lost" scarred me for life on investing my time in something I haven't a clue of when it will end.